Before Will Smith was known as an actor that used to make good project choices (what happened to you, man?) he was the royal named rapper of the duo “DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince”. They’re fun style of hip hop even did well with audiences not usually drawn to the genre and started a new craze. It led Smith to get his own show, The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, in which Jeff had a recurring role as Will’s best bud Jazz. It was their second single off of the He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper album that was probably the most responsible.
“Parents Just Don’t Understand” features two tales of the Fresh Prince showcasing how his parents didn’t quite get him or the usual “you forgot when you were teenagers” argument. The unusual presentation drew you in and inspired the look of the show’s intro, but of course that doesn’t matter on the radio. How well do the lyrics themselves tell these stories?
The first question that should come up is how reliable the Prince is as a narrator. I kind of lean towards very. For one this is clearly a comedic song and not meant to be taken seriously. The other is that he basically admits his sins when it comes to the second story even though he doesn’t seem to see what he did wrong. In fact that part is what convinces me he’s a reliable narrator…he just happens to be a dumb kid. I think that’s the joke.
In the first story I have to side with Fresh Prince. The only brand name we get are the shoes and he did try to get his mom to relent a bit on the outdated clothes. You can find decent clothing at a fair price even if it isn’t the style he’s going for. Though frankly I’d take the slacks over the bellbottomed trousers but the trousers are the one he is willing to live with. I’m not sure what that says about my fashion sense but that’s because I never had any. Was he exaggerating any of this? You kind of hope so with the second example.
Let’s do some math. If we assume The Fresh Prince is the same age as Will himself, Smith was born, according to Wikipedia, in 1968. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was recorded in 1987, which puts Will and presumably the Prince at 19 years old according to an online calculator. (My math skills are about the same as my fashion sense.) So I have to ask how old the Prince was when the second story occurred. I know sometimes girls can look older including “bodily dimensions”…but TWELVE YEARS OLD? If he didn’t have a license and his mom can afford a Porsche I’m guessing Fresh is at most fifteen and that’s still creepy. Not because of the age difference, assuming she’s reached puberty and look at her own actions, but because a twelve year old shouldn’t have that kind of body. Then again I’m 47 so I’ve long since lost interest in that age group and the actress in the video doesn’t come off as twelve with a lot of make-up. Some people are the opposite of me and look older than they are (I still get around 30) and that still seems off. At any rate he kind of got off lucky on this one. At least he didn’t wreck the car or something, though after the beating I’m sure he felt like he had. 😀 Still, when Nickelodeon aired the video for Nick Rocks: Video To Go they edited out the girl’s age, jumping from “I drive very well officer” right to “I was arrested, the car was impounded”. Probably not a good part for the kiddies, though I don’t remember if they also took out the part about her shirt being unbuttoned or where her hand was. I’m hoping not.
As a storyteller Smith does very well. He and Jeff Townes (the Jazzy one himself) along with Pete Harris put the song together though I don’t know who did what. The end result however are two fun stories with some great music behind it. The style and the actors playing the parents would show up again. “Mom” is in the intro for The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air though a different actress would portray Ms. Smith in the show for her occasional appearances. The style of both the song and the video would return in the follow-up “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble”, which featured three stories and I might look at in the future. The rest is history.